Vertical Structures

Making 3D NAND Flash – Animated Video

The good people at Coventor have graciously allowed me to post their video of the Pipe-Shaped BiCS 3D NAND flash process onto The Memory Guy blog site.  Click the image to see it play out.

Coventor tells me that they are the leading Continue reading

Samsung Begins Operations at its Xi’an Fab

Samsung's Xi'an, China fabSamsung has announced that the company’s newest memory fabrication plant (Fab) in Xi’an, China has “begun full-scale production operations”, adding that: “The new facility will manufacture Samsung’s advanced NAND flash memory chips: 3D V-NAND.”

I immediately asked whether the plant will build products other than 3D NAND, and the company has replied that this will be the only product produced in the Xi’an plant.  What Samsung has not said is what is meant by “full-scale production operations.”  Typically wafer fabs start with a very low production capacity as new tools are being qualified, only ramping to high-volume production a year or more after initial production.

Samsung points out that production has begun a mere 20 months after initial groundbreaking, which is quite Continue reading

Comparing Samsung V-NAND to Micron 16nm Planar NAND

Andrew Walker, SchiltronI was recently directed to a very interesting blog post written by 3D technologist Andrew Walker of Schiltron in which he compares two NAND flash chips that were presented at the IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) on February 12.

The post, titled Samsung’s V-NAND Flash at the 2014 ISSCC: Ye Distant Spires… is on the 3D InCites website.

Dr. Walker puts a lot more time and effort into his graphic representations of 3D NAND chips than do others (The Memory Guy included) and this makes it much easier to understand the issues he points out.  He shows us that Samsung’s 3D NAND cell is about 5 times the size of a 40nm planar NAND cell and about 30 times that of Micron’s 16nm planar cell, and that the 3D NAND’s physical area is unlikely to change with any future 3D technology generations.

For this and other reasons (given in the article) he states that the Samsung V-NAND is “an impressive achievement but not a realistic foundation for the future.”

After having compiled my series on 3D NAND I can appreciate Dr. Walker’s opinion.  This is certainly going to be a difficult technology to master, and it could be quite some time before the cost structure for 3D NAND can compete against that of today’s planar technologies.

Give the Walker post a quick read and judge for yourself whether we are at the brink of a 3D conversion or if this technology can be expected to slip out a few years.

Why NAND is So Difficult to Scale

ASML chart chowing the lithography used for 4X, 3X, 2X, and 1Xnm planar NAND and 3D NANDNAND flash is the process leader in memory technology, and this puts it in a very challenging position: It must ramp to high volume production using techniques that have never been tried before.

The graphic for this post (click to enlarge), supplied by ASML, the semiconductor industry’s leading lithography tool supplier, illustrates the challenge of migrating from one process node to the next.  Across the bottom, on the X-axis, are representative process nodes ranging from “2D-45”, or two-dimensional (planar) 45nm NAND, to “3D-5x”, or three-dimensional 5xnm NAND.  Below these numbers are the year of volume production.

The vertical axis, labeled “Tolerance” represents the minimum Continue reading

3D NAND: Who Will Make It and When?

SK hynix 3D NAND Cross SectionThis series has looked at 3D NAND technology in a good deal of technical depth.  The last question to be answered centers around the players and the timing of the technology.  A lot has been said about the technology and its necessity.  Will everyone be making 3D NAND?  When will this big transition occur?

This post will provide an update as of its publication (13 December 2013) to show each company’s current status, to the best of The Memory Guy’s understanding.  Readers may want to refer back to the earlier posts in this series, as well as to a June 2013 Nikkei TechON article that gives a good review of the 3D NAND alternatives that have been presented at various technical conferences.

Let’s start with Samsung, the largest producer of NAND flash today.  Just prior to Memcon 2013 last Continue reading

3D NAND’s Impact on the Equipment Market

Costs to Migrate to Next Lithography Node - Applied Materials (click to enlarge)A very unusual side effect of the move to 3D NAND will be the impact on the equipment market.  3D NAND takes the pressure off of lithographic steps and focuses more attention on deposition and etch.  The reason for going to 3D is that it provides a path to higher density memories without requiring lithographic shrinks.

This sounds like bad news for stepper makers like ASML, Canon, and Nikon while it should be a boon to deposition and etch equipment makers like Applied Materials, Tokyo Electron, and Lam Research.

In its summer 2013 V-NAND announcement, Samsung explained that it would be Continue reading

What is a “Multilayer Cell”?

MLCFrom time to time I get questions from investors in the memory business asking: “What is a multilayer cell?”

The answer is: “There is no such thing: It’s a misstatement.”

The term “MLC” has, by a number of people, been mistranslated to “multi-layer cell.”  The misunderstanding appears to have originated in the financial community.  People in the flash memory business never use the term at all.

Yes, we talk about MLC, but to us the term means “multilevel cell”.

A multilevel cell is a cell that uses varying voltage levels to represent different states.  With four voltage levels the resulting four states on a single cell can be turned into Continue reading

How Do You Erase and Program 3D NAND?

How FN Tunneling WorksSome of my readers have asked: “How is 3D NAND programmed and erased?  Is it any different from planar NAND?”

In a word: No.

(Before I get too far into this allow me to admit that The Memory Guy doesn’t understand quantum physics, so I will be presenting this only to the depth that I understand it.  There will be no band-gap diagrams or equations to wrestle with.)

Both 3D NAND and planar NAND use Fowler Nordheim Tunneling (FN) to both program and erase.  This differs from NOR flash which programs bits using Continue reading

3D NAND: Benefits of Charge Traps over Floating Gates

Real California Cheese SealA prior post in this series (3D NAND: Making a Vertical String) discussed the difficulties of successfully manufacturing a charge trap flash bit.  Still, Spansion, and now other flash makers, have determined to take this route.  Why is that?

In Spansion’s case, a charge trap was a means of doubling the bit capacity of its products.  It was an inexpensive alternative to standard MLC flash.  To date this strategy has worked very well.

As mentioned in that earlier post, 3D NAND uses a charge trap because it’s extremely difficult to create features, like a floating gate, sideways – lithography works from the top down.  A charge trap, when used to replace a floating gate, doesn’t need to be patterned, since the Continue reading

3D NAND: How do You Access the Control Gates?

Samsung's TCAT NAND Flash Wordline COnnectionsOne of the thornier problems in making 3D NAND is the job of connecting the peripheral logic (the row decoders) to all of those control gates that are on layers buried somewhere within the bit array.  Remember that the control gates are the conductive sheets of polysilicon or tantalum nitride at various depths in the chip.

The problem boils down to this: You can’t run connections from each layer up or down the side of the chip to get to the CMOS circuits below.  Instead you have to create a terrace structure to expose and connect to each layer.

These connections are made by etching a stair-step pattern into the layers and sinking Continue reading


Jim Handy Objective Analysis Memory Market Research +1 (408) 356-2549 Jim.Handy (at)

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